Swimming To Brownsea Island

Swimming To Brownsea Island

The idea: Swim to, and camp on, an island
Location: Brownsea Island
Transport: Swimming + stand up paddle board
Essential kit: Swimming goggles 
Less-essential kit: Lentils and cooking pan
Kit we wished we’d had: Water wings, more than one lighter/waterproof matches
Cost per person: £1.80 for lentils



It had been a largely hot, clear month in the run up to July’s adventure, atypical of British summertime but ideally suited to the ocean based adventure we had loosely planned for ourselves. We had a solid premise; swim to an island, set up camp and sleep on that island, swim home the next day and bask in the adulation of our non-adventuring colleagues who had spent the previous evening at home.

Working out the finer details of our master plan proved a little more tricky with deliberations made over the perfect scenic island, the distance we could feasibly swim without losing a team member to the briny depths and solving the more mundane issue of aligning everyone’s schedules. Still, the weather was on our side and we had a full month to work out the finer points…
Fast forward to the final Sunday in July, it’s misty, windy and wet, Matt & Callum haven’t been able to clear their schedules and myself and Jake have arrived, late, to the wrong carpark after hastily hashing out a route with Nick the previous evening. Miscommunications, missing friends and miserable weather were all taken in our stride however, we were excited for the adventure ahead and, after finding the correct park, decided that the choppy seas would probably add an exciting element to the afternoon’s swim.

“The mist turned to fog about halfway through our journey and we lost sight of both shores several times. The combination of rain, wind and fog conspired to make a journey that had looked simple on maps, and from the Poole shore, take us 2 fairly harrowing hours to complete.”

A convenient location, proximity to the mainland and relatively low marine traffic, paired with a certain amount of historic appeal, had led us to settle on Brownsea Island as our goal. The route we’d planned had us swimming from Hamworthy Park) in Poole to the North West side of the Island. Just short of 2km and in reasonably sheltered water the route would provide a decent challenge, to satisfy Jake and Nick, whilst assuaging my slight concern that we were setting ourselves up for an Open Water scenario.


The choppy sea and high winds made for slow going as we pushed off from the beach. We’d packed two inflatable support SUPs with provisions but persistent waves made them tricky to control and led to several false starts as we tried to figure out the best configuration for our journey. We eventually settled on a slightly odd convoy, with me and Jake rotating from swimming to SUPing with the SUPs half towed and half rowed to stay roughly on course. Jake and Nick took on the brunt of the swimming with Nick putting in a mammoth effort; managing to swim the whole route and at one point, in some particularly choppy waters, towing a SUP on each leg whilst me and Jake frantically tried to maintain course with the oars.

The mist turned to fog about halfway through our journey and we lost sight of both shores several times. The combination of rain, wind and fog conspired to make a journey that had looked simple on maps, and from the Poole shore, take us 2 fairly harrowing hours to complete. As always, the extra difficulty made the trip that much more enjoyable (in hindsight!) and the site of the shore coming through the fog as we made the final push to Brownsea Island was a great feeling.


After changing out of wetsuits and a brief explore along the beach we found an ideal spot to camp, a grassy clearing sheltered by a large tree just on the line where beach sand met the grass of the island. Feeling like heroic adventures, conquerors of the mighty sea preparing to rest on a remote island, we set about making camp and building up a small fire for dinner. Our egos were only somewhat deflated when, in the midst of our preparations, a small group of Girl Guides ran past giggling about the Pokemon Go gym they had just captured…

A campfire disaster with a melted lighter (protip – bring more than one way to light your fire when camping) led to an island wide hunt for something that would ignite and save us from a chilly night and dinner of uncooked lentils. Salvation came in the form of a stove igniter, kindly lent from a boat that was moored off shore, after Nick SUPed out and pleaded for their sympathy. We got a fire going just as the sun began to set and the red onion dahl that Jake prepared tasted all the better for the trials that preceded it. 

Girl Guides aside we saw no one else for the duration of our time on Brownsea and as we sat around the fire before bed, listening to the waves and looking back to the mainland we felt significantly further than two kilometers away from the mundanity of city life.

We slept in bivvy bags close to the beach, soothed to sleep by the waves whilst looking up at stars in a (now) clear sky through a canopy of leaves. Waking to the sun shining through foliage overhead, after a surprisingly good night of sleep, we decided to explore a little before we started the swim back to Poole. Brownsea is a beautiful little island and with no one else in sight we had it all to ourselves for several dawn hours spent climbing trees, spotting wildlife and exploring the old piers and firewatch tower. The working week eventually beckoned however and we made our way back to camp and the SUPs to suit up and start the swim home. Our return journey was almost the exact opposite of our swim to the island with just over an hour spent SUPing and swimming through perfectly still seas in glorious sunlight.

Back at the cars we deflated our SUPs, traded our oars and wetsuits for laptops and mobile phones and set off in search of a morning coffee to help us transition into a regular, albeit slightly sea salty, Monday morning.▲